Often I hear people ask “where is the place of the subject in object-oriented ontology”? The first thing to note is that object-oriented ontology (OOO) is not one particular ontology. Rather, OOO denotes a genus with many different species, rather than a particular position. In this regard, OOO is more a term like “empiricism”, “rationalism”, or “idealism”, rather than “Whiteheadian”, “Cartesian”, “Deleuzian”, “Derridean”. Just as there were debates between the various rationalists as we can see in the case of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz who vehemently disagreed with one another, there are all sorts of different versions of OOO. The sole criteria for being an object-oriented ontologist lies in holding that the universe is composed of units. However, different object-oriented ontologists theorize those units differently. Some argue that units are completely withdrawn from all relations (Harman). Others argue that units only exist in relation to one another (Whitehead, Bennett). Some argue that units have a fixed and withdrawn essence (Harman, Morton). Others argue that units are processes and events and that they only exist and “have” an identity through continuing these operations or processes (me, Whitehead, Deleuze). Some argue that units are characterized by absolute actuality (Harman, Whitehead), others argue that every unit is split between potentiality, power, or capacity on the one hand, and actuality on the other hand (me, Deleuze, Bhaskar, DeLanda, Aristotle, etc). I could go on, but you get the idea. There isn’t one OOO, so there isn’t going to be an “OOO take” on the subject.
Consequently, in writing about OOO and the subject, I can only speak for myself. I think the first thing to get is that for OOO, the term “object” is not something opposed to a subject. The language here is misleading, which is why some of us try to use terms other than “object”, such as “unit”, “machine”, “actual occasion”, “actant”, and so on. The problem with the term “object” is that the philosophical tradition tends to think of object as that which a subject posits, regards, or intends. OOO uses the term “object” in a sense more analogous to thing, than as the correlate of an egos intentions. “Object” just names anything that exists. Being, OOO theories contend, consist of objects or units, regardless of whether any sentient being experiences them or intends them. These objects, of course, differ amongst themselves. Atoms are different than plants. Animals are different than rocks. Humans are different than armies. Armies are different than corporations and hurricanes. There are lots of different types of objects and one fruitful path of object-oriented inquiry would consist in the investigation of the unique structures of these different types of objects. Moreover, we see just how broadly the term “unit” is used here. On the one hand, there are units at a variety of different levels of scale from the smallest fermion up to entire nations, and there are objects that exist within other objects. Armies can’t exist without people and atoms, but nonetheless, armies are unique units that have their own dynamics. The case is no different than that of the relation between a cell and your liver. Your liver can’t exist without the cells that compose it, but nonetheless your liver is a unique unit because it has its own ways of operating, its own “rules” that govern it, that can’t be found at the level of individual cells. In the context of this discussion, however, the important thing to note is that, for OOO, subject is a type of object.